Last year I wrote about my frustrations with Mennonite Media changing their name to Third Way Media. Now, another one of our “Mennonite” organizations has dropped the name Mennonite.
A couple of weeks ago MMA (The organization formerly known as Mennonite Mutual Aid) changed it’s name to Everence. What in the world is “Everence” supposed to mean? For more on that you can read their justification here, but it’s basically supposed to evoke words like “reverence” and “ever”. Personally, none of the justifications for this particular name are compelling, interesting or worth paying attention to. But, hey, I don’t work for the expensive branding agency that they hired.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I’m not particularly thrilled with this move. I have a variety of issues with this particular move but I’ll try to keep short and organized.
In the article from The Mennonite online, they gave the following reasons for the change. “MMA told the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board on Feb. 18 that it planned to unveil a new corporate identity and name “that brings together all parts of MMA into a unified brand.” Among the reasons: MMA members are confused by the variety of names currently being used; Mennonites no longer seek out other Mennonites to do business with as they did two generations ago; as an organization that works with multiple denominations, the word “Mennonite” is both a positive and a negative; in Internet search engines, the acronym “MMA” has been taken over by Mixed Martial Arts.”
Some of these reasons are interesting but silly. The Mixed Martial Arts reason is so patronizing it’s not even funny. There are a couple of reasons buried in this statement that I think hold more weight. Namely, “Mennonite” has become a liability. I’ve written more this in other posts so I won’t go into it now but it’s deeply troubling to me that Mennonites have such a bad name that it pushes so many people away that we can’t continue to do business that way.
The other line of note is that there is a critical lack of Mennonite loyalty. Mennonites not longer seek out Mennonite institutions to do business with. There are all kinds of issues involved here from acculturation to theology and being different from the world around us. But this lack of loyalty is not new. Ask anyone who works at our church colleges what kind of loyalty incoming Mennonite freshman have. Parents and kids alike simply don’t value Mennonite education and institutions in the way they did even 30 years ago. That’s a huge problem.
Part of me is unhappy about this change, but part of me is also happy because it finally brings out the fact that MMA is not now, and has not been for a very long time, a true Mutual Aid organization. A long time ago when MMA was started, it was actually real mutual aid. It was Mennonites helping other Mennonites. But somewhere along the way it turned into just another insurance company that intentionally sought to broaden it’s “market” to include many other denominations. It is telling that now 1/3 of MMA’s customers have no Anabaptist connection. Clearly, this organization is a long way from the one that it was started to be.
I’m willing to go out of my way to support a church agency that is doing some radically different things. If MMA was actually Mutual Aid I’d work pretty hard to support it. But as it is, it’s just another insurance company. And quite frankly, they don’t offer that good of insurance. They’re mildly more ethical than some other companies but I know enough of their history to have serious questions about ethics of MMA as well. The only program that I’d really be willing to stick up for is the new Corinthian plan for pastors in MCUSA. It’s a plan that combines regular insurance with a mutual aid program to help provide insurance for pastors working at churches that simply can’t afford it. But the reason that I’ll support this program is because it’s not a regular insurance plan!
While I have issues with the broader theological and philosophical impact of dropping the name Mennonite, I also have real questions with MMA/Everence having the backing of our entire denomination. Currently they are still our “official” provider of financial services. I would seriously question this powerful monopoly of MMA/Everence, precisely because I think that their name change is an accurate representation of deep and long standing moves away from what it was created to be.